The Wolfpacker

May 2013 Wolfpacker

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Tough Guys The Defense Works On Toughness And Fundamentals During The Spring D By Matt Carter efensive coordinator Dave Huxtable has one trait above all that he wants his defense to develop. "Toughness," he stated. "I want to put a defense on the field that is tough and that plays with great effort, a defense that is swarming to the ball and that is tough." Attitude and fundamentals were the two primary focal points for the defense during the spring. Head coach Dave Doeren noted there are similarities between what's being installed and the scheme that was in place under former head coach Tom O'Brien. Huxtable also has the luxury of retaining more experienced players on his side of the ball than offensive coordinator Matt Canada. The Wolfpack returned three starters on the defensive line plus several key reserves. While the Pack must replace two starters at linebacker, State returns senior D.J. Green, a starter in 2011 who was ineligible last year. Thus, with an experienced front seven, and still fielding a 4-3 look, it's not a surprise that the defense finished the spring ahead of its counterpart. "That's not a bad thing," Doeren noted. "The last program that I took over was the opposite, and that was tough. We had to score 65 points to win some games. I would rather be ahead on the defensive side than the offense." Picking Up The Pace That's not to say there were not some noticeable differences on defense this spring. "We have a lot of different checks," senior cornerback Dontae Johnson noted. "You've got to do a lot more thinking on the fly than we did last year, which is great because a lot of teams had a pre-snap read on us, and they would change the play. "This year, we have a lot of things in our back pocket to go to if teams try to get a read on us." In addition, perhaps in an attempt to work on the defense's toughness, the tempo in practice picked up significantly. "I was expecting energy, but I really wasn't expecting tempo," Johnson admitted. "It's a lot faster than I anticipated, which is good for us as a team. I expect this tempo is going to catch a lot of people off guard and is going to be to our advantage." Johnson is expected to be one of the standouts on defense this season. He earned a fulltime starting role in 2011, taking over at the cornerback opposite David Amerson. Another strength is expected to be at defensive tackle, where redshirt junior Thomas Teal and junior T.Y. McGill are returning starters. "Those two guys … have had a really, really good spring," Huxtable confirmed. The return of Green and emergence of sophomore M.J. Salahuddin in the lineup at linebacker should also help produce a speedy and athletic unit. The secondary, though, may be the biggest question mark. Safeties Earl Wolff and Brandan Bishop have graduated to pursuing opportunities in the NFL. Replacing those four-year starters is one of the biggest challenges facing the defense. Luckily for the Pack, the coaches may have found a player who can epitomize the way Huxtable's defense is supposed to be played: fifth-year senior Jarvis Byrd. Stepping Up In The Secondary Byrd's journey back into the lineup required toughness. Despite being NC State's most highly touted recruit in the 2009 class, Byrd was slated to redshirt that fall until a rash of injuries led to a midseason decision to play him. He quickly found himself in the starting lineup for the final three games of the regular season after impressing coaches with his ability to be physical in the previous staff's zone schemes. In the regular-season finale versus UNC, Byrd was being blocked by North Carolina receiver Greg Little. Little was a physical specimen for a receiver, checking in at 6-2, 220 pounds. Even as a fifth-year senior, the 5-11, 183-pound Byrd would still be significantly smaller than Little. During the second half of the game, Little executed a textbook block on Byrd and drove the then true freshman yards downfield until Byrd's knee buckled underneath him. Byrd tore his ACL at that moment. The emergence of sophomore M.J. Salahuddin at linebacker during the spring is expected to help first-year defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable field a speedy and athletic unit. Photo by Ken Martin 48  ■  the wolfpacker 48-51.Spring FB Defense.indd 48 4/30/13 2:50 PM

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